Saturday 31 December 2022

Late December

Over the years the 23rd December has often been a lucky day for me, probably because being close to the dreaded C word I’m often off work?  Whatever, my first twenty pounder was on the 23rd and there’s been at least two more since, including last year.  This 23rd coincided with new moon and with a nice mild spell in progress I really should have headed for Norfolk but the forecast promised sheets of rain so I chickened out.  But still I felt the need to fish, from the bank beneath the shelter of a brolly at least.

I couldn’t be arsed to get out of bed too early and had a bit of a drive to an old lake on the edge of the county.  The morning was dark and miserable, the rain relentless enough for me to put the oval up before anything else so it was 0915 before I made a cast.  Within minutes two more deadbaits splashed down and I retreated to sanctuary beneath the oval where I expected to mostly remain.  But within ten minutes a half herring dropped in close was on the move at speed, a take which I somehow managed to miss?  With a fresh bait dropped back out I sulked beneath the brolly, the weather was rubbish and I missed what could have been my only chance of the day.  The sky was dark and the rain so hard not even the birds were flying.

An hour later it was still raining but not with as much malice, the sky was threatening to get a bit lighter.  Things got even brighter, the buzzer signalling a take on a mackerel and this time I made no mistake bringing a welcome jack to the net, a dark fish in nice plump condition.  In the half hour that followed I had two more fish, another jack on the mackerel and a slightly bigger one of about seven pounds on a herring at close range.  The weather was improving all the time and I was able to spend longer periods sitting outside the brolly, enjoying a different view.  At 1140 the mackerel was on the move again a fish which initially seemed to have a bit of weight to it but shrank at the net.  The recast had barely settled before the float steamed off again but this time the bait was dropped.

By 1300 the rain had all but stopped and the sky was threatening to clear, so much so I took the opportunity to tidy up and have a short move.  This time the rods went out before I needed the brolly and this had only just been erected when I had another take on mackerel.  All the other fish had been in good nick but this one was long, skinny and frayed at the edges.  I sat and pondered; today I’d fished three different baits and had takes on mackerel and herring, smelt remained untouched.  I had two rods fishing float legers and all the takes had come to these, the leger rod hadn’t moved.  It would be easy to draw conclusions about all of this but sensible not to.

I gave it another couple of hours and even saw the sun poke through the defeated clouds but no more pike bothered me today.  Five fish banked which was four more than I expected but where were the bigger ones today?  Maybe I’ll find them another day.

 30th December 2022

A week later, the dreaded annual gorgefest had passed and I managed to convince Isaac it would be a good idea to chuck some lumps of fish in water.  It was another gloomy damp day so I sorted out the bank fishing kit and we headed back to the same spot as last time.  When I looked at the forecast I’d noticed fresh winds but we got out of the car and stepped into a gale.  We’d not dragged ourselves out of bed too early so it was just after 0900 before we were fishing, three deadbaits fished with heavy leads and loud alarms while we sheltered from the fierce wind.

There were fish here last week and I was hoping for a repeat, a take after ten minutes was the prefect start.  It was my rod, a legered herring and I connected with a Pike and brought it all the way to the bank where it found a weedbed and shed the hooks.  I’d seen it and it was a jack but I don’t want to lose any of them.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the start of a mad feeding spell, the rain didn’t abate and the wind got stronger, the brolly was stable but we couldn’t see the water, I hate sitting like that.

In the late morning the rain eased and we had a couple more takes, I landed a Jack on mackerel but Isaac lost one on lamprey.  By midday the wind was still raging and it wasn’t fun, we’d had enough so jacked it in and that was my last fishing trip of 2022.

Another angling obsessed year comes to an end and I’m enjoying fishing as much as I ever have, if anything probably even more because I’m much more relaxed about it all?  Most of what I do nowadays requires minimal effort, is relatively close to home and well within my comfort zone.  I continue to spend my time in wild, beautiful places but most of the actual fishing I do is relatively simple.  I do spend a bit of time on preparation each week so I’m able to keep my tackle organised then it’s just a case of picking up what I need and off I go.  The truth is for most of the year I just can’t be arsed to go to the lengths I once did in pursuit of fish.  These days I look at the effort other anglers make for their fishing and think ‘fair play’ but I don’t want to catch them that bad.  I suppose it goes back to what I’ve said before, it’s the act of fishing that must be enjoyable not just the trophy shot.

The exception is autumn when I really do make a big effort and go the extra mile. Pike time in the special place is majestic and I put more effort into those eight weeks than the other forty four, that’s how it has to be.  My diary tells me I’ve caught ninety nine Pike in 2022, these came from five different waters or maybe eight, depending on your point of view?  I fished in pits, rivers, lakes and broads and managed a few big ones along the way too.

One of the absolute highlights of the year was our trip out west for a few days of fishing which is totally unlike anything we do in East Anglia.  Just this alone makes it thrilling for me and to catch a couple of whiskery things capped an almost perfect trip.  It also made me remember there’s more interesting winter coarse fishing to be enjoyed locally, away from the crowded stillwaters.

After Pike I spend more time sea fishing than anything else and since rediscovering the joy of this insane pursuit I now count the days between trips all year round.  Catching a few Bass on lures was great fun and any Smoothound is an event.  I still make loads of mistakes but I’m learning loads, this year from the sea I caught eight different species including a Gurnard which was a new one to me.  Including this I had five PB’s as well as five second bests and from freshwater I managed one PB and three second bests.  2022, it all went rather well… 

Now all the Christmas bollocks is almost over it feels like I’ve pushed through some kind of obstacle and I can see longer, milder days ahead.  The New year will still be cold, grey and murky but I will mix up the Pike fishing with other stuff, then when the river season ends its back to the beaches.

Sunday 18 December 2022

Cold Buffet

13th December 2022

I had some holiday to use up so booked a week in December, when I did so I couldn’t see a sudden cold snap coming, not after the slow autumn but of course sod’s law intervened.  The forecasters promised ten days or so where daytime temperatures would barely creep above zero.  But stuff the cold, I’d find a bit of water somewhere and chuck a bait in it regardless.  Any fishing plans for Friday were abandoned when I remembered I had to go for a Covid booster jab, following this I felt lousy for a few days, combine that with the sub zero temperatures and I didn’t want to leave the house.  By Tuesday I was feeling more normal and fancied a fish but not for Pike.  Ever since the trip out west I’ve been promising myself I’d go for Chub so I spent some time sorting out a nine foot feeder rod and a few bits and pieces of tackle, enough for a couple of hours by the river.

I was familiar with the stretch because I’ve walked it hundreds of times although rarely with a rod.  The footpath was frozen solid in places and slippery on the slopes with dodge the dogshit in places but I made it in one piece.  I set up just upstream of a reed lined bend that had a gentle flow along the near bank.  I was fishing a small maggot feeder on a helicopter rig with a hooklength of about 18” and a 14 hook, there’s probably a better way to do it but I haven’t a clue.  Any Chub fishing I’ve done was way back in the last century when I seem to remember crude and heavy didn’t put them off.  But with it being cold I’d decided to use maggots and only put half a dozen into the feeder each cast.  I made my first cast just before 1500, intending to fish into darkness.

It didn’t take long for me to realise the nine foot rod was a mistake, even on this little river.  Steep banks and reeds made life tricky, the slightly heavier twelve footer would have been a much better choice.  A second bankstick would have helped too, laying the rod across my lap wasn’t ideal.  But I was comfortable enough sitting here staring at the white tip and trying not to be too distracted by the birds around me.  A Magpie in the meadow opposite, a Robin that wasn’t temped by an open bait box and a Wren climbed the foliage on the far bank.  The intermittent sound of birds was nice to hear but the roar from the dual carriageway was permanent.  There were fishy ripples occasionally too but these were just upstream and not where I was expecting.

After half an hour or so in which I hadn’t had a bite, for some unfathomable reason I recast with a small piece of bread flake.  And after a few minutes I noticed some definite fishy trembles on the tip.  Eventually it pulled down properly, I bite even I couldn’t miss.  There was a bit of resistance and I pulled a nice (bait) sized Roach to the surface, here it splashed about a bit while I groped for the net and managed to unhook itself before I was ready.  The next couple of casts also brought a few nudges and pulls as well as one decent tug that a competent angler would have struck at.

By 1615 the nibbles had dried up. My hands were cold, I was uncomfortable and I could barely see the quiver tip. I gave it one more cast with the head torch on while I slowly tidied up.  The temperature dropped quickly and I was relieved to negotiate the slippery path without incident.

16th December 2022

The days past and the weather got even colder, nowadays I’m just not used to these freezing spells but they were normal when I was a young angler.  Friday I had a day fishing arranged with Mr W but the continued freezing weather meant our first choice venue had a thick lid on top.  I struggled to come up with Plan B, we needed somewhere that a) wasn’t frozen b) gave us at least a theoretical chance of catching a Pike c) wasn’t a total shit whole.  In the end I pointed the car west towards the fens.

The screen washer was frozen so as we drove along the long, straight fenland roads I was peering through a dirty screen.  We eventually arrived at the destination I was sure would be fishable but climbing the floodbank we peered down on the big river which was frozen solid from bank to bank.  After a few minutes of scratching my bonce we got back in the motor which I pointed eastwards, the tributaries usually run with a little more pace I was still confident we’d find somewhere to fish.  Half an hour later we arrived at plan B, somewhere I dropped into back in January when I’d been rewarded with a fish. We climbed a second floodbank and thankfully there was a bit of open water around a bend between frozen straights. 

By 0800 we each had two float legered deadbaits covering the river, near and far sides where the ice allowed.  Tackling up had been an ordeal, my fingertips ached with cold but it was good to sit back with a brew knowing we were in with a chance in theory at least.  On a damp murky day the Fens can be a grim place, the views from the top of the floodbank would lay before me, an endless desert of black fields crossed by lines of dead brown reeds and the occasional wizened tree.  The plains of Mordor…  But when the sun is out on a crisp winter morning the fens are glorious, the view is beautiful so you can’t believe it’s the same place.  The river was a magnet for birds of all types, a Harrier flew lazily along the far bank and away to the west a pair of deer leapt a ditch.  Would any Pike be active?

We’d had more than a week of cold weather, long enough for the fish to be used to it after the initial shock.  I figured Pike would feed if we could find them so with this in mind we recast regularly and searched what water we had available.  After an hour I picked up a rod baited with smelt and as soon as I moved the bait it was taken, I was attached to a small Pike which thrashed on the surface and chucked the rig back at me before disappearing in a swirl.  I had mixed feelings, it would be nice to catch a Pike in these circumstances but unhooking a small Pike in this weather would have been painful.

As the sun climbed so the temperature crept up and more of the river became fishable so we moved upstream and resumed fishing with the little boost of confidence a move always brings.  Recasting regularly was a necessity as drifting ice regularly dragged our lines but on balance I felt this activity would be a good thing.  But it was my margin rod that had been left unmolested that drew my attention, did the float bob?  Yes it did!  Something was definitely creeping away with my smelt, I set the hooks and soon had a jack thrashing on the surface.  This one stayed on but was only just hooked, on this occasion I felt thankful that the double hook had held and we hadn’t blanked.

We had one further move upstream to a nice tree lined area but this didn’t produce anything.  By 1500 the sun was slipping away again, the temperature dropped sharply and the ice floes were near constant.  Enough was enough, we packed up quickly and were on our way home in daylight, sitting comfortably in a rapidly warming car.  I’d been glad of Mr W’s company which is always good but left to my own devices I wouldn’t have bothered to fish today.

17th December 2022

Saturday, according to the weatherman this should be the last cold one and by midday it did actually feel more pleasant than of late so I prepped my fishing gear with a bit more enthusiasm.  Giles arrived and we loaded his car then set off eastwards, somehow we’d manage to convince ourselves that sea fishing would be a good idea!  This autumn the moment I stopped sea fishing Cod arrived in greater numbers than they’ve been seen in several years and it was this that motivated us.  If these fish didn’t put in an appearance we both felt confident of catching a few Whiting for dinner.

We were fishing at the ‘Cauldron’ by 1330, lumps of squid and pieces of fish were chucked into a rising sea at varying distances then we sought shelter beneath brollies.  To begin with the temperature was manageable but the sharp southerly wind was constant and stung any exposed skin.  High tide was due around 1730, an hour or so into darkness.  In theory this was good and we whiled away the afternoon light confident that fish would feed later on.

The sea got higher, the sky got darker, the temperature dropped but the fish didn’t turn up.  We were both active, making sure we had fresh baits and doing all the right things  at what should have been the best time but it just didn’t happen.  Around 1800 with the tide now turned I chucked out a couple of bigger baits and thought ‘fuck it, that’ll do’ then retreated beneath my oval.  Here in a sanctuary from the wind I was comfortable and content but outside my haven the night was hostile.  Around 1830 I actually had a bite, not one of the erratic rattles that had lifted arse from seat a couple of times earlier, this was a definite bite.  I hovered over the rod and when it rattled again I struck too soon, that was as close as I got.

When Giles struggled over at 1900 and suggested we call it a night I was well happy to do so.  To be honest I’d have been happy to go home and hour earlier.  I’d enjoyed the fishing but I didn’t really want to be there.  I’m not sure how that works either?  Once again I felt respect for the lunatics for whom this is their sport of choice throughout the winter, tonight it wasn’t for me.  Will I have another go before spring arrives?  Probably.